Future Proofing Civic Data

Exploring the challenges of preserving open civic data for the long term

This past year, Temple University Libraries received a Knight Foundation Grant, “Knight News Challenge on Libraries,” to lead an exploratory research project, Future Proofing Civic Data, investigating the challenges of long-term preservation for open civic datasets.

Open civic data portals, such as OpenDataPhilly in Philadelphia, have been a growing trend in cities, states, and national governments over the last decade. Many governments and other civic partners began developing open civic data initiatives in order to make data originating from governmental agencies and civic organizations easily accessible online for immediate consultation, as well as for data reuse. Datasets can include anything from election results to operating budgets to an inventory of all the trees in a city. The hope is that these portals can help bridge the gap between citizens and government and stimulate civic engagement by making data of relevance to citizens easily accessible online.

However, portals do not always have fully formed or fully implemented plans to ensure the long-term preservation of those datasets, and best practices are yet to emerge in that domain.

The Temple Library project team interviewed over a dozen stakeholders about their use cases and needs and looked at several open civic data initiatives in Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh, to compare practices and examine real-life examples. We wrote up our findings in a white paper where we explore ten important factors that need to be taken into consideration, if we are to tackle long-term preservation of civic data successfully. We also look at how libraries could take the lead, or at least participate in the process.

Please see the full white paper for more details.

The project team was comprised of Joe Lucia (PI), Rachel Appel, Delphine Khanna, Chad Nelson, Margery Sly, and Gretchen Sneff.

America’s Other Deficit – The Innovation Deficit

Here’s an informative four-minute video to help you understand a new type of deficit that threatens the U.S. economy. Innovation helps to grow the American economy through the discovery of new products and services that will bring value to consumers and industry. Many of these innovations, ranging from GPS technology to MRIs or life-saving medicines, were the result of higher education research. We now find ourselves facing an innovation deficit that weakens our capacity to produce the research that leads to innovation.

In a nutshell, the innovation deficit is the difference between actual federal funding for scientific research and education and the amount of funding actually needed for those activities to produce a sufficient level of innovation. The point of the video is that while this may seem like an effective strategy in the short-term to reduce the budget deficit by cutting research funding to higher education, in the long-term it’s actually hurting the economy by reducing our national capacity for innovation. Because we also compete in a global economy, fewer funds domestically decreases the attraction of American universities to the world’s best scientists and innovators and instead encourages them to seek research opportunities in other countries offering more funding. That compounds the problem over time.

InnovationDeficit.org, the producer of the video, is a coalition of higher education, business and public health associations, including the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Council on Education and the Business and Higher Education Forum. The Coalition hopes to use their site and video to alert members of Congress to the serious problems that may result if we allow the innovation deficit to grow.

Feeling Students’ Research Anxiety

Did you know that when students were asked to associate one word with the way they feel when assigned a research project the responses included angst, tired, dread, fear, anxious, annoyed, stressed, disgusted, intrigued, excited, confused, and overwhelmed? That’s according to a new report titled “What Today’s College Students Say about Conducting Research in the Digital Age.” The report comes from an organization called Project Information Literacy. They conducted focus groups and one-on-one interviews with students to find out what it is like to be a college student these days. Their major finding is this: Research seems to be far more difficult to conduct in the digital age than it did in previous times.

Perhaps that is not completely unexpected. But this finding and many of the other insights in this valuable report can help those who assign research papers and projects to better understand the feelings and experiences of today’s student as he or she navigates their way through the electronic information landscape. For example, students report their growing dependence on Wikipedia because it provides them with the context they need to begin a research project; many students report not knowing where to begin their research. This is where the librarians at the Temple University Libraries can help.

They are experts on not only how to begin a research project, but how to acquire the necessary information and skills to finish it as well. They can help students to identify the appropriate resources, to select good research terminology, to structure a working search strategy and even how to capture and organize the content. That’s why librarians are now engaged in meeting every section of English 0802 (Analytical Reading & Writing) for two sessions in every semester. This is the perfect opportunity to learn how to conduct research in the digital age without the anxiety. Librarians are also available to developed customized research instruction sessions for any course – and many Temple faculty already take advantage of this. If you would like to do more to reduce your students’ research anxiety – to reduce their dependence on Wikipedia – and to start seeing better research papers – contact your department’s liaison librarian or contact Steven Bell for more information.